Faith in Action Meeting

Faith in Action

Faith in Action Meeting

Faith in Action Meeting

This past spring four members of First Church (Pastor Beth Jarrett, Brenda Fox, Micah Morris, and Carol Stickley) attended the kick-off meeting of Faith in Action here in Harrisonburg. Faith in Action is an interdenominational organization formed to solve systemic problems in the local community and county. It seeks to move beyond charity to address the root causes of problems. Faith in Action is modeled on the IMPACT (Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together) organization in Charlottesville, and was started by a group of five individuals who make up the steering committee.

Covenant churches join Faith in Action by nominating two representatives and offering a contribution toward its operation. The churches also commit to undertake a listening process with members of their congregations to identify those community issues which they are most concerned about.

Faith in Action undergoes an annual cyclical process whereby issues are identified and researched and then an outreach and lobbying effort is undertaken with local leaders. Each year a specific issue is chosen for the organization to focus its attention upon. At its September 27 meeting, the issue of Immigrant Justice was announced as the focus of the 2015-2016 year. This issue will be narrowed to a specific topic during the fall research phase as meetings are held with immigrant agencies and individuals.

Currently sixteen churches are covenant congregations. They include Methodist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Catholic, and Lutheran churches among others. If you would like to learn more about Faith in Action, you can go to their webpage at http://www.harrisonburgfaithinaction.org/.

The recent controversy over whether to build a new jail in Harrisonburg showed how effective community involvement can be. Faith in Action offers the opportunity to become involved on a similar scale. Is First Church of the Brethren ready to carry forward the spirit and enthusiasm of our Weekend of Service to join with our brothers and sisters in the faith and address problems in Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County?

As our ministry teams and congregation begin to build our budget for 2016, we hope that the First Church congregation will support the modest amount included in the Witness Team’s 2016 budget for Faith in Action and that we will undertake a listening/action process to identify those community issues which most impact our congregation.

Respectfully submitted,

The Witness Team Members

Beth Cash, Chair, Sharon Helbert, Vice Chair, Brenda Fox, Joyce Leake, and Carolyn & Larry Seilhamer

the dusty road…

Untitled

A note about one of my illustrations: I was heavily influenced by Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis and drew heavily upon his chapter on the dust of the Rabbi as one of my illustrations. I will italicize that section.

Many of you now that I recently returned from a two-week vacation and I want to tell you this morning that I went away feeling a little tired and burnt out. I went away telling God that I really needed to hear from him and that I needed guidance and direction for our church. So a week goes by and I hear nothing… and in fact I was getting a little discouraged… maybe even a little agitated with God for not speaking to me.  But then, two days into the second week, while I was sleeping, God woke me up in the early morning with a whisper. It was poignantly audible;  something that does not happen to me everyday, but I definitely recognized that it was from God. And he said one word: Discipleship. Needless to say, I woke up and went into the other room so I wouldn’t wake up Harry and I began to pray and reflect about this one word. And in that moment, our last year together as a church seeking to become more Jesus filled, the many conversations I have been having with you about education, programming, sermon series, all the amazing kids we have here, and all the amazing youth we have here came into focus. And I realized that God was calling us to not only become better disciples, but to also zealously make disciples right here in our church and in our community.

It’s a long story to say that I tossed out the window all of my plans of preaching this Lent and went with what God was putting on my heart: discipleship. So for the rest of the Lenten and Easter Season, we will be focusing on the Gospel of Mark with the goal of unpacking this word and call to discipleship… and what better way to do that than begin this morning with the calling of the disciples.

Turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 1 14. After Jesus was baptized and filled with the spirit earlier in the chapter, and after he had fasted and prayed 40 days in the wilderness and faced temptation, he goes into Galilee and begins preaching this important message: “The time has come,” he said, “the kingdom is near. Repent and believe the good news!” What does it mean that the kingdom is near? What does it mean to repent? And what is the good news? Well, Mark seems to be answering this with the story of the calling of the first disciples. Read more

Sabbath and Gratitude

As I reflect on what it means to cultivate gratitude and a generous heart as a spiritual practice, I am reminded of the importance of keeping the Sabbath. I found this blog I wrote a few years back that really captures my thoughts about this integral connection. It was a good reminder and I wanted to share it with you.

I have recently noticed that the more I practice keeping the Sabbath, the more I experience gratitude for the things that I have. Why, you may ask? I think, in part, it is due to the slowing down long enough to notice what I have;  long enough to take in the smallest things like a double rainbow that stretches across the sky after a thunderstorm, a flock of geese flying over my head in perfect formation, the hydrangea vine that bloomed for the first time since I moved into my current house, the sound of teenage guys laughing in the basement, the funny way my cat looks at me when he wants me to rub his tummy…

I have also noticed that when life is busy and I am unable to keep the Sabbath, I quickly become  unsettled. This unsettledness leads to a sense of loss, emptiness and longing. It soon moves to an unconscious striving to do,  fill, acquire, or accomplish something that will ultimately make me feel better. Missing the Sabbath drives me toward a kind of vortex that  sucks me into another way of being and drives me further and further away from a place of deep spiritual satisfaction. It literally sucks all of the resources and creative energy out of me and as each day and week passes, I find it harder and harder to slow down. I find myself feeling less and less fulfilled and consequently, less grateful and less generous.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day apart in silence and reflection at a local retreat center. As I sat in one of my favorite chairs to pray, I noticed that a painting was propped up on the floor in the corner facing me. I was captivated instantly… it seemed like a watercolor of a remote Italian village… along the sea. you could see its reflection in the background… but in the foreground, there was a little boat tied to a rock in a little cove surrounded by white flowers… gardenias I imagined at the time. I found myself reminiscing of our years spent in Sicily and soon became aware of a longing, an aching, even, to return.

Was I ever really cognizant of what I had in those beautiful years there? Had I taken the time to savor the beauty of the people, the land and the food? My mind was soon interrupted by the daunting thought of now… My scripture reading for that morning had been Psalm 16… Verse 6 reads “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance”. The invitation? Take it all in and receive God’s blessings that are all around, even the blessing of memory… savor the now.

Sabbath is a time of savoring what has been given; rejoicing in what God has provided. It changes things.

the longing

oh how I would love
to sit
in a boat
skimming smooth water
anchored
among fragrant flowers

to breathe
warm salt air
with hints of gardenia

to see the village behind me
that pauses
sleepily
for a moment
in the reflection
of quiet waters

to be rocked
gently
in the presence
of day

a practice to remember…

Tonight, many of us will meet together to practice remembering the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before his death on the cross. Some traditions will host love feasts, foot washing services and communion while others will simply take time to fellowship over a meal and remember together the significance of the events that took place so long ago.

This ritual, though very diverse, is rich with multi-sensory ways to engage more deeply into the words Jesus shared with the disciples gathered around the table. We touch the bread that represents the body of Christ… the white color reminds us of the Lamb of God, without blemish, who took away all sin from the world. We recall that Jesus willingly broke the bread and gave thanks for what it was and what it was to become. He invited the disciples to eat it… to fully take in and digest that his body would be broken for them. He would become the bread of life so that we may all have life.

He invites us to remember.

We feel the weight of the cup… the very cup that Jesus agonized over in the garden later that evening. The cup he said, is the blood of the New Covenant. We see the deep red fruit of the vine and it becomes a poignant reminder of Christ’s precious blood poured out for the world… We taste the warmth of God’s healing and salvation as we drink from the cup and remember.

We continue this practice because Jesus encouraged his disciples to remember and recall the significance of the things he said as often as they would eat the bread and drink the cup. It was to be a truly contemplative moment… a moment to more fully awaken every part of ourselves, every God given sense that we have , to the depth of Christ’s love for us.

Tonight, as we engage in this prayerful act of remembrance, may we slow down and take it all in. May we become aware of each sensory message that the bread and the cup hold for us. As our feet are being washed, may we be reminded and touched by God’s care for us… and may all of these things produce a soul felt “Thanks be to God” welling up from the depths of our being.

worshiping a God who engages all of our senses…

As I read in Exodus this morning, I was struck with the details that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai for constructing the Tent of Meeting. He included a variety of woods, jewels, gold, purple yarns and colored fabrics … worship was to be a sensory feast.

There were to be spices and oils to engage the sense of smell, bells to awaken the ears, fabrics to touch and images that would tell the eyes something of the Holy of Holies. I was especially struck by the details in the Ark of the Covenant. The box was to be constructed of Acadia wood and then covered with gold. At each end, would be a Cherub with their wings pointing upwards toward the sky.

As I read the words and imagined these cherub pointing upward, I began to think of God and the heavenly realms. I marveled at God’s purposefulness in engaging the senses that he has given us. These senses, though very useful to us throughout the day, served another purpose. They are also to be doorways into God’s presence.

We have all smelled a familiar perfume that reminded us of a favorite person or felt delight when we slid into clean sheets of a freshly made bed and felt cared for. All of these can lead us to a prayerful place… all of these can awaken us to God’s presence and care.

As I write this, I hear the birds chirping outside of my window. I am reminded that God has given me another day… I am also reminded that spring is here because the birds sing louder as the weather grows warmer. My heart is warmed and  I am suddenly filled with hopefulness and gratitude. I have been awakened to God’s presence and invited to linger…

O to be fully awakened
into the now
with the rush
of a pregnant moment;
God coming near

to take it in
like the red breasted bird
that has momentarily left its perch
and flown down into the meadow

to be near
the passing of the holy one
to drink it in
the way spring grass
welcomes the morning dew
absorbing it
into the deep parts
to be swayed
by the wind of God’s passing
the way strong trees
circum
to the breeze

Listen for the whisper

There are some of us that worry… I happen to be one of those. It is not a trait that I am proud of especially since Jesus seems to say over and over to his disciples, “Do not worry”. Sometimes, my mind is so busy working through the possible outcomes of each day and each situation that it presents, that I find it very difficult to be still and centered.

It was that way for me this morning as I found myself hurrying through scripture with my mind filled with all kinds of questions… at one point I even found myself composing a letter in my head that I needed to write later on today. Ridiculous I know, definitely not very holy… but hey, I am being vulnerable here.

Thank goodness for Grace that is able to interrupt my many thoughts and feeble attempts… all of the sudden I arrived at Matthew 10:26-27. It reined in everything I was thinking and feeling and poignantly spoke life into my spirit. Jesus is giving his disciples instructions on how to go out and minister to persons:

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”

The “do not be afraid” grabbed my attention, but it was “what I tell you in the dark” and “what I whisper in your ear” that really spoke to me. I can worry myself to death weighing all of the possible outcomes, calculate and recalculate life decisions, programs, worship services, sermons and outreach… but the most effective work I can do is listen to the quiet whisper in the dark… that is how Jesus will guide me.

This is not an invitation that I learned growing up… I was taught to fill my mind with scriptures and studies… to seek more and more information, understanding and to master the word. There is nothing innately wrong with that… but, this quiet invitation to hear the whisper is something very different.

My Old Testament reading this morning was also about Moses going up to Mount Sinai to hear from the Lord… another model of God speaking to Moses directly and giving him instructions on how to give guidance to his people.

The invitation to the disciples as well as to Moses was to withdraw to a place that was dark… I would call that a quiet, non stimulating, and still place. In other words, we are to give ourselves a really good chance to hear the whisper. We are invited to trust that the Savior is indeed whispering in our ears, and as we recognize his whisper, we can learn to trust in His guidance.

Perhaps the words of an old hymn, “Be still my soul” offer a prayer towards this quiet place of holy encounters:

Be Still My Soul

Be still my soul
The Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross
Of grief or pain
Leave to thy God
To order and provide
In every change
He faithful will remain
Be still my soul
Thy best thy heavenly Friend
Thro’ thorny ways
Leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul
Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future
As He has the past
Thy hope thy confidence
Let nothing shake
All now mysterious
Shall be bright at last
Be still my soul
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them
While He dwelt below

some thoughts on relinquishing

A few years ago, I found myself going through a very dry time in my ministry. I found myself feeling tired, burnout, uncreative, and a little calloused. I was scheduled to spend a weekend at a local retreat center for prayer and reflection… this was not what I wanted to do… I really didn’t want to pray or reflect… they both seemed too draining and depressing at the time. Since the weekend was already prepaid, I reluctantly packed my bags and headed out.

I wouldn’t exactly describe my attitude as being “spiritual” or “reflective”. In fact, I was there because I felt like I had to be. As I walked the grounds of this magnificent place, I couldn’t even muster up the energy to say a prayer for the weekend. In fact, I resented feeling like I had to pray for the weekend. But finally, I mustered up enough energy to say a simple two word prayer: “Find me”.

I didn’t have the energy to seek God so I relinquished my time, my sense of responsibility to make the retreat meaningful, and my own helplessness to God by saying, “Find me, God”. That was it.

I will never forget how God met me that weekend. When I relinquished into God hands how I ought to be refreshed and how I ought to pray, God met me in a profound way… the way I needed to be met but didn’t know it. I came away from that time a changed person with a renewed sense of God’s profound love for me. I can say, that I will never be the same again.

While I was there, I wrote simple song that captured my prayer and God’s answer:

Draw me
ever deeper
ever nearer
Lord, to you

Find me
ever waiting
in the secret place
for you

For your love rushes through me
and awakens
the deepest strains of songs
not yet sung
you purge my soul
with tender, healing
spirit hands of love

Sing to me
in the quiet place
let you’re love
find me there

Call me
to be one with you
and give me grace
to see

That your love rushes through me
and awakens
the deepest strains of songs
not yet sung
you purge my soul
with tender, healing
spirit hands of love

Three practices that can help us through a dark night experience

I remember a particularly difficult time in Italy when Harry and I were the janitors, the building and grounds committee, the Sunday school teachers, the nursery, the counselors, teachers and preachers for the small community of new believers that were being formed at Termini Immerse, Italy. (Talk about an overwhelming job description!) I had three lively children at that time at the exciting ages of 2, 4 and 7. Each Sunday when the time for preaching came, I would take all of the children out with me into the next room for Sunday school. On a good Sunday, we could have as many as 15 kids. Harry would get to preaching… a long time… and I would be over in this room in my high heeled shoes and Sunday best which was an important part of the culture… teaching SS class in another language… with 15 children ranging from 1-13 somehow hoping that what I had to say would interest them. I used a flannelgraph which one of my kids would take the characters off each time I put them up there, interrupting my thoughts that I was working on so hard in Italian… with my youngest either clinging to my dress or on my hip or someone else’s baby on my hip… in a room that echoed terribly with marble floors and which you could hear every sound in the next room and vice versa… no heat and no air-conditioning… you are getting the picture right? I was completely and totally overwhelmed and this happened every single Sunday. And… every single Sunday I would go home after church, crawl into my bed and cry.  Even though I believed that God had called us to Italy, and I believed that we were pursuing God’s will for us, I felt like a miserable failure. I was lonely, completely overwhelmed and I really just wanted to go home. That was a dark, dark time for me. I must admit that there were times when I felt so overwhelmed, that I didn’t really care if I was pursuing God or not.

Even Jesus didn’t feel like pursuing God that night in the Garden. In Matthew 26 verse 36 we see that Jesus has celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples and he has gone to the garden to pray. He tells Peter and that his soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Have you ever paused to consider just that sentence… How dark that night truly was for our Jesus? So when we find ourselves in difficult times or in a dark night experience we can learn from our Savior who has walked through the darkest of nights.

There are three practical things that we can learn in this story.

(1. Don’t go to the garden alone…

The first thing we can do when we find ourselves in a Gethsemane experience is invite persons to companion us. Jesus invites three of the disciples, Peter, James and John to be with him. As Christians, I think this can be hard for us at times. We want everyone to think we are doing great, or we don’t want to cause anyone trouble, but Jesus, openly names his feeling of sorrow to the point of death to his disciples and allows them to surround him and be with him during the most difficult time in his life. When we invite our brothers and sisters in the Lord to companion us, it is as if we were inviting God to companion us because we believe that we have the very presence of God, the Holy Spirit, dwelling in us.

(2. We can pray honest prayers

Sometimes, I think we pray pretend prayers with God because we are afraid that somehow our anger, disbelief and sorrow will keep God from hearing our prayers. But nothing could be further from the truth. God made us with a full array of emotions… we really can’t hide that from God. If we look at Matthew 26:38 we see that Jesus overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, falls on his face and says, My Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me…

(3. Relinquish our power into the hands of God.

The third thing we can learn from Jesus is that there will come a time in all of our lives when we do things that we really don’t want to do… even when we know it is right.  When we find ourselves in a very dark hour, it is good to relinquish the outcome and control into the hands of God. Jesus, himself, says inverse 38… not my will but thy will, O God.

Jesus was God incarnate, so it is a little different for us. But I think there comes a time when we need to fall on our face and simply let God be God. That requires us to fully relinquish any claim we might have to controlling our lives. It is a little bit like jumping off the diving board at the deep end of the pool for the first time and trusting that our parents will catch us.

There will come a time when all of us will have to do this in the impending hours before our death. But, I believe that this relinquishing should become a practice for us. In a very real way we do that when we practice the Sabbath. When we cease for a day, we are saying in a very real way, God, you are the Creator and I am simply the created. I relinquish my desire and drivenness to pursue more and work more. I trust that you are able to come to my aid. I trust that your will and your power are enough for me.

When the going gets tough

I think that we as Christians skip over the immense pain and suffering that Jesus experienced the week leading up to his death. Though there are many stories in between, we tend to move from the shouting Hosannas in church on Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Yes, many of us do have a Maundy Thursday meal and even a Good Friday service… but we rarely live with the Gethsemane experience for any length of time.

Immediately following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds cheering and blessing him, Jesus enters into a very dark week. He goes into the temple only to be heart broken and angered by the disrespect and corruption of his father’s house… it should be a place of prayer but instead, it had become a place of deceit, bribery and corruption. Humanity truly needed a savior and he was fully aware of what the price would be.

The following day he was harassed by the chief priests and teachers of the law. They questioned his motives behind his actions. They wondered who gave Jesus the authority to behave the way he did. They threatened him and ridiculed him with poignant hatred, “Who do you think you are?”

The next day, one of his closest friends agreed to betray him and hand him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver… the common price of a slave. Perhaps Jesus could have anticipated this from someone else, but one of his own?

The heaviness of what was to come must have been heavy on his heart as he celebrated his last passover meal with the persons he had lived with, taught and loved intensely for the past several years, his disciples.

It was in this immense, dark place that Jesus found himself struggling to pursue God in the garden.

We may never have a week like that of Jesus, but many of us do enter into dark and difficult times. We all experience deep disappointment, despair, loneliness, dread, heart brokenness, depression, anxiety… you can fill in the blanks. The question is, what will we do in that dark place?

Jesus pursues God even when he doesn’t want to do what is being asked of him. He surrounds himself with persons who will help him, he prays and waits for God’s assistance, and he relinquishes his desire and control over the situation.

When we find ourselves in difficult times or in a dark night experience we can learn from our Savior who has walked through the darkest of nights. We can share our struggle with one or two close friends, we can sit and pray our laments honestly in God’s presence, and we can relinquish our brokenness and darkness before God knowing that only God can deliver us.

It is comforting to know from the Gospel of Luke that angels of light came to Jesus’ after he prayed. God didn’t take the cup away from Jesus. He would still drink from the cup of death and suffering, but God did come to his aid in the dark night.

What then are we to do? Try to muster up enough strength to take a few baby steps toward others and God and then wait for him to find us.

Waiting with Jesus

As Holy Week draws near, I find myself sitting with Matthew 26:36-53. Jesus has celebrated the passover meal with his disciples and he has gone to the garden to pray. He tells Peter and that his soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death… and he invites  him to stay  and keep watch.

It intrigues me that Jesus needed community in those final moments. He extended the invitation to three of his disciples and friends to companion him during one of the most difficult and intimate times in his life. How were they to companion? By simply being prayerfully present.

He leaves them there to go and plead with God… If it is possible may this cup be taken from me… only to return and find that the Peter and the other have fallen asleep. How is it that they could so easily abandon their Lord and friend at such a crucial time in his life? Jesus’ question to them reflects the same incredulity, “Could you not keep watch with me one hour?”

We may gawk a little at the notion that the disciple were not able to stay awake and pray for Jesus at such a significant moment. Truth be told, for many of us, it is hard to manage  to keep watch for an hour during good and normal times. And yet, it seems that God invites us to keep watch for his presence and prayerful about fresh revelation.

Jesus continues to work among us here on earth inviting us to companion him… sometimes we get to do some really exciting and wonderful things. But other times, more often than not, he invite us to join him by simply being prayerfully present. I am not sure things have changed too much for us over the years… most of us find ourselves sleeping, both literally and figuratively.

How are you keeping watch?